WARNING: Know all your options before getting started learning Korean!
- How to Use This Guide
- 1. Specify Korean Language Goals
- 2. Pick a Learning Strategy
- 3. Choose Korean Course Content
- 4. Evaluate Course Effectiveness
Wanting to learn Korean, but not sure where to start? It’s definitely understandable!
After all, it’s an entirely new language with a unique alphabet (Hangul).
There are a a number of ways to started with learning Korean. However, all methods are not created equal! Not only that, but everyone has different reasons for learning the language. Since they all have different reasons, it make sense to make sure that the study methods match the reasons and the goals. So which way is the best way to go?
Just do a Google search and dive right in, right? Start plugging away? Well, sadly that doesn’t pan out into being able to speak Korean in most cases.
That’s definitely not because there isn’t enough Korean material on the internet. Quite the contrary! The internet is filled with sites giving free tips, strategies, vocabulary and lots more!
It’s great that there’s free content out there on the interwebs but, it’s not always the best for YOU! It’s critical that your plan keeps you motivated and gets you to your end goal.
Time is our most precious resource, and it can be frustrating or discouraging to spend our time on something that’s not useful. For example, imagine:
- learning a thousand vocabulary words and then realizing that we still can’t form a sentence in Korean.
- learning that that a lot of those thousand vocabulary words aren’t commonly used by Koreans
- finding out that you spent six months studying formal Korean only to find out that most Koreans don’t talk like that!
In order to avoid these situations, we’re suggesting you go through a few simple steps before choosing how you want to study Korean. Here we go…
How to Use This Guide
We’ve done our best to make this guide as comprehensive as possible, but you may not need to read all of it! The main goal should be to cover four simple steps:
- Specify goals
- Pick a strategy
- Choose content
- Evaluate effectiveness
First, set clear goals. We’ll help you set that up with #1 below.
Next, pick a strategy. #2 will give you some ideas for potential strategies.
Third, choose course content. We’ve outlined a number of possiblities, so choose one that works for you.
Lastly, make sure you have a way to find out if the course is working for you. #4 will give you some ideas for how to choose measurable results.
Let’s do this!
1. Specify Korean Language Goals
The million dollar question is: Why do you want to learn Korean?
You should have a specific idea of what you want to do with the language. Once you know this, you can choose your strategy.
For instance, maybe you just want to use Korean to speak with close friends and have conversations. In that case, your strategy would be to concentrate more on everyday listening and speaking practice.
Or maybe you want to become a document translator for the sports industry. In that case, you’d want to focus on reading, writing, and vocabulary that are geared towards sports.
In any case, when you have a goal in mind, you can go through the process of making it more specific. It will only help you succeed in the end!
Here are some killer goal examples:
- Have a 10 minute conversation with a native Korean about Starcraft within 6 months
- Read the full “Deathnote” series of comic books and understand 80% of the content
- Order makgeolli at the neighborhood restaurant and buy a round of drinks for friends
- Marry your Korean partner and speak Korean to the in-laws at the wedding next year
- Watch an episode of Pororo without subtitles
- Understand all the lyrics to your favorite KPOP album by the end of the year and be able to translate them into English!
- Before departing for Korea, be at the point where you’re able to comfortably order in restaurants, take taxis and go about daily errand while conversing only in Korean
- Sing a full song in Korean at your next company outing with the boss
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
Each of these goals is very different, but they all have one thing in common: they are SPECIFIC!
Why don’t you take a quick second and write down your goal for learning Korean? Use this template.
Here’s an example of this template in use. This might be a good goal for a movie lover:
The good thing about this goal is that it’s clear and specific. You have an end in mind, and a deadline to get there. This will help you smooth out those peaks and valleys of language learning motivation.
If you’re not done, take a few minutes go back and fill in the sentence.
If you have finished, then you’ve earned yourself a nice break.
<Goal-setting break time>
2. Pick a Learning Strategy
Now that you’ve got a goal in mind, it’s time to pick out a strategy.
Your strategy should lead you to your goal through a clear path. It is the set of actions that you will take each day to get you to where you want to be with your Korean skills.
Here are some examples of questions you may want to ask yourself:
- Do you need to learn formal vocabulary?
- Will slang be useful for you to study?
- How good does your writing need to be?
The good news is, some Korean courses already have a strategy. In that case, you need to decide if it will work for you. You may only need parts of that strategy, or you may have to combine multiple strategies.
To highlight this, we’ll look at two example situations:
Let’s say your goal is to read a “Deathnote” comic book (#2 above). In that case, your strategy isn’t going to require you to learn a lot of academic vocabulary and grammar.
You also aren’t going to need to a lot of speaking practice since you’ll mainly be reading comic books. If you want to fast track your studying, you’ll want to either find or design a program that will get you up to speed with comic book lingo as quickly as possible.
In that case, a Korean grammar course with an additional stack of comic book-heavy vocabuarly flash cards will be a solid strategy.
Let’s try another example situation. In this case, you want to be able to go throughout your normal day only speaking Korean (#7 above). You’re going to need speaking and listening skills
Think strategy here. What kind of language will be necessary to talk with Koreans in everyday situations?
When choosing what to focus on for listening and speaking, you can use the 80/20 Principle.
The 80/20 Principle is a law written by Vilfredo Pareto, where he showed that 80% of the wealth in a given society was held by 20% of the population. The law was also found to hold up in areas outside of economics. For example, Pareto noticed that in his garden, 80% of the peas were being produced by only 20% of the peapods. Or you might notice that 20% of a language is used 80% of the time.
The 80/20 Principle in general can be summarized as: 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort.
Therefore in language learning, you can select the most important and relevant materials and focus on the 20% that give 80% of the results.
To get to your goal of doing daily errands and routines in Korean, applying the 80/20 Principle to the material you choose will move things along nicely.
Think about it. In English, about 300 words make up about 65% of the spoken language. The same thing goes for Korean! Find the most commonly spoken words and move ahead confidently with your strategy.
Matching your strategy with your goals will make life a lot easier for you.
With a goal in place and a strategy ready to implement, we’re ready to look at the various types of Korean language learning content available.
3. Choose Korean Course Content
You know where you want to be.
You know what plan of action will get you there.
Next, let’s talk about choosing the right Korean language content. This is a hugely critical piece of the puzzle. The content should match your strategy.
Without the right choice, we’re often unhappy with the results. One year of studies could pass by and we’d still be unable to do much of anything useful in Korean!
One of 90 Day Korean’s students came to us because he wanted to learn to speak. Previously, he had been studying Korean at a famous university in Korea (KAIST) for a year. He had even passed the Level 3 Korean TOPIK exam.
The problem was, even after all of that studying, he could barely muster a word at our meetup!
When he did speak, he was only able to toss in a word here and there– it was as if he couldn’t figure out the proper way to say what he wanted in a Korean sentence. All those months of academic study had gotten him to into his head and he wasn’t able to use what he knew. When asked why he decided to take the TOPIK exam, it was clear he didn’t need it for any specific reason. He just wanted to be able to speak Korean and thought that would help get him there!
How about one more example?
Have you ever heard someone who is using English as a second language use a sentence like this in English?
“Yes, that time would be appropriate for me”
What he meant to say was:
“Yes, that time would be good for me”
Most people would probably use the second one in English, instead of the first. It sounds more natural. But there are times when you would use the word “appropriate” in order to be more precise.
Do you need to learn the word “appropriate” in Korean? Well, that depends on what your goals are.
The moral of the story is that the Korean language learning content you choose should match your goals and strategies. Simple as that!
If you do opt for free Korean courses, make sure you follow one that follows a solid strategy. Don’t hop around from site to site! If there is no course outline provided, perhaps you could interview some friends and come up with an outline for yourself based on what they think is most important.
There is so much information on the Korean langauge out there to sort through, and it’s hard to figure out what you need if you’re not familiar with the language. For motivation’s sake, it’s important to get it right early on.
Make sure that whatever content you choose, it should fit in with your strategy and goals.
Knowing that, let’s get right into the different course types so you can make the best choice. While some of these options are only available to those living in Korea, you may be able to find alternatives or language classes in your area.
Let’s jump right into it!
a. TOPIK Korean Proficiency Test
One strategy for studying Korean is preparing for the TOPIK. It stands for “Test Of Proficiency In Korean”.
It sounds quite formal, doesn’t it?
Well, that’s because it is!
The TOPIK is a serious test. For most Korean language learners, preparing for this test isn’t their idea of “fun”. It’s a rigorous and intense exam focused on grammar, listening, reading, and writing.
What about speaking, you ask?
There is currently no speaking portion to the TOPIK.
Make sure you plan your Korean study accordingly!
So why would someone plan to take a test like the TOPIK? There are plenty of good reasons. Let’s go over a few:
- To work at a Korean company
- To attend a Korean university
- To become a Korean resident
- To have some kind of study structure
- Bragging rights
- Rate their Korean skills
- Love for test taking
You can study at Sogang University after you pass the TOPIK!
Photo: George Fox Evangelical Seminary
Now that you know some reasons why people take the TOPIK, let’s take a look at the test structure in greater detail.
As you can see in the chart below, there are two different TOPIK tests (TOPIK I and TOPIK II). You’ll take one of the two tests, and be graded according to your score from those tests.
Based on your score, you’ll receive a certificate for one of the six evaluation grades below.
You’ll need to sign up for the TOPIK ahead of time. Registration typically opens 1 – 2 months before the actual test date. Here is the example of the exam schedule for 2015.
For those of you who are impatient, you’re not going to like this news! Test scores are announced 1 – 2 months after the test is completed. The results for tests that are offered in Korea only are announced sooner since there is less to grade. Try not to think too much about it!
If you want more detailed information, stop by their site at www.topik.go.kr.
So you’re probably wondering why the TOPIK is listed as a way to learn Korean.
Well, it’s not exactly a course in itself.
However, keep in mind that the TOPIK does follow a structure and format. Some people use this as a guideline for what Korean they should learn. You can download previous tests for free and study the reading, vocabulary, grammar, listening, and writing.
There are also numerous textbooks, online courses, university prep classes, and academy courses available to help you prepare for the TOPIK.
A word of caution about using the TOPIK as a Korean study plan. It’s dangerous to use the TOPIK as a default strategy if you haven’t outlined your goals. The reason is, some of what’s studied in the TOPIK won’t be used in your daily life. If that’s the case, you’ll feel like you’re learning efforts are a waste of time. Likely you will become less motivated and give up on Korean.
It’s much better to figure out what you want in the end, and then make sure the TOPIK is going to get you there.
Overall, if you love the challenge of a test or you want to make Korea more of a permanent home for yourself, the TOPIK may be the right move for you.
What are your reasons for studying for the TOPIK?
Onto our next study method!
b. University Courses
For students in Korea who want to learn Korean, studying at a university is one of the options available for those who want to dedicate a large amount of time towards studying in a structured way. Depending on the course, students can apply for a C-3 (short term study) visa or a D-4 (general student) visa and get ready to hit the books!
Advantages of Studying at a University
The main advantage of studying at a university is that it provides structure and focus. Trying to learn a language in the evening after work is difficult for a lot of people as they are often tired and just want to relax, or they have other plans that get in the way of language studying. This applies to people who study on their own and also applies to students who take an evening course.
Studying at a university also allows you to dedicate a large amount of time to studying a language and the quality of education is normally higher than it would be in other cases. If you have a great private tutor for 1:1 studying, then you are very lucky. Finding a reliable and effective private tutor or a quality free course can be very hit-or-miss. At a university, it is quite possible that your teacher is one of the leading teachers in Korea and it is almost certain that they are highly qualified and experienced.
Studying at a university also helps you meet other like-minded people which can help you practice the language outside of the classroom. You will also make some great friends! Your classmates can give you more confidence as you will hear them trying and making mistakes. This means you will have less pressure than if you are talking with native Koreans where you might sometimes feel as though every mistake is being scrutinized.
Disadvantages of Studying at a University
Cost is a major factor as not only do you have to pay the tuition fee, but also you forego earning any money while you are studying. This can make studying for a prolonged time very expensive. Working on a student visa is prohibited unless you have been a student for longer than six months so even getting a part-time job may not be an option.
As your class will be made up of other students, you might pick up some of their bad learning and speaking habits which can hinder your progress when you learn Korean at a university. However, this point can be negated by ensuring that you practice speaking with a native Korean regularly outside of class to correct your mistakes. You can also mitigate this problem by sitting next to students who are of a different nationality than you as they are less likely to make the same mistakes (sitting next to Japanese students is a good idea as they usually have clear pronunciation and Japanese grammar is similar to Korean grammar).
How to choose a university
Cost is a factor, but most universities charge a similar price for their programs. Location and the program’s length and start dates might also limit your choices. The focus of the program is also important as some programs are more focused on speaking (such as Sogang University) whereas others are more focused on grammar which may be more useful if your reason for studying is to pass the TOPIK exam.
Reading the university websites might not provide you with much more information than the general course curriculum so visiting the university, getting feedback from other students, and trying to get a feel for the university will help you decide which university is best to study at. If you are not in Korea then try looking for student reviews on youtube (such as this one about Yonsei and Ewha Universities).
The quality of the books that are used is important and can also be a good indicator of the quality of the course. If the program hasn’t been updated for ten years then it might not be the best place to study, and it might not have the most motivated teachers. In other words, if you see an old DOS-based Windows computer with a green screen on the front cover of the class textbook, then run for your life!
As the atmosphere is very important when studying, you should definitely try and find a university that matches your personality and language goals if you want to succeed on your university course.
Hanguk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS)
Hanguk University of Foreign Studies (Known in Korea as 외대) is well known for its language programs, so it comes as no surprise that they also have a Korean language program. Their courses have six levels and run in the mornings from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Fees may be wavered for exchange students.
Unlike many of the other Korean Language programs, Sogang University’s program concentrates on speaking Korean. There is the option of taking a morning 4-hour Korean class, an afternoon 3-hour Korean class, an afternoon 4-hour Academic Korean class, or an evening class. The 4-hour morning class comprises of one hour of writing, two hours of speaking, and an hour of listening/reading, but the listening/reading classes also contain a large amount of speaking. The 3-hour afternoon program is essentially the same but without the writing class.
There are six levels and from levels two upwards there are also optional free classes to take for students studying in the morning classes. Due to the focus on speaking, students transferring from another university may find themselves in a lower level than expected if their speaking is not strong enough. Terms are ten weeks long. To learn more about studying in Sogang University you can watch a series of videos here.
Rather than using the regular four hours a day, ten weeks a semester system, Sungkyunkwan University’s program tries to squeeze six semesters into a year by making their semesters eight weeks long with five hours of study every day. For students who want to learn Korean quickly, this might be a good option although studying for five hours a day could be quite exhausting.
Seoul National University (SNU)
SNU has six levels and each semester is ten weeks long. SNU runs morning, afternoon, and evening classes. The morning and afternoon programs are both four hours long and the evening program is just six hours per week. It consists of three hours of study on a Monday evening and three hours of study on a Thursday evening.
Yonsei University has a six-level pathway and an eight-level pathway. The eight level pathway is recommended for native English speakers and goes at a slower pace, only covering eight units per semester as opposed to ten units in the six-level pathway. Yonsei has a morning and an afternoon program, both of which are four hours long per day. There is also an evening program that is ninety hours long per semester, consisting of three hours of study a day on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.
Pusan University of Foreign Studies (PUFS)
If you want to learn Korean in Busan then it is possible to study at Pusan University of Foreign Studies. The regular program is only available in the morning and, like most of the other university programs, has six levels, four hours of study a day, and ten-week long semesters.
Other Universities in Korea
Many other universities in Korea have a Korean language program, you can find a complete list of the courses here.
University Courses in your home country
It is often possible to study Korean in your home country if you are outside of Korea. Looking at universities that are noted for their Korean Studies programs would be a good place to start. Within the U.K., The University of Sheffield and the School of Oriental and African Studies are regarded as good places to learn Korean.
c. Academy Courses and Private Tutors
There are several academies (학원) that offer Korean courses in Seoul and other large Korean cities. These courses are generally held in the evening (although it may be possible to study at the weekend). Different academies offer different courses such as general conversation, business Korean, and TOPIC preparation, so it is possible for students to choose a program based on what they want to study. Edukorean, Metro Korean Academy, Ganada, and Seoul Korean Language Academy are just some of the academies that teach Korean.
Studying through a private academy can provide structure to your language learning and help motivate you to study Korean on a daily basis. The downside is that the courses are often expensive and studying in the evening after work can be quite tiresome. The focus of the course may not suit your needs and if there are not enough students then courses could be cancelled suddenly.
Another option is paying for a private tutor to help you learn Korean. Private tutoring rates are usually not much more than academy courses and you can tailor the studying to your needs. Using a private tutor also gives you more speaking time per hour so can be an effective way to improve your speaking ability. However, the quality of a private tutor can be hit-or-miss and your study may lack structure, even if you are using a textbook alongside the private tutor.
If you don’t live in Korea then you can find a private tutor online. One website that allows you to find online tutors is italki which allows students to find tutors and have a lesson over the internet. This allows students to get plenty of speaking practice even if they are not in Korea.
d. Free Classes
The obvious advantage of free classes is that it is cheaper than studying at a university or academy. The only costs involved in free classes are the cost of textbooks or photocopying costs. The quality of the teaching varies dramatically from class to class. Although it is possible to find a free class with a great teacher, it is also possible to find one with a really poor teacher. Equally, the quality of the materials used can be very different depending on the class. If you can find a free class that has an enthusiastic teacher who encourages participation then such a class may well be better than some of the fee-charging classes available.
Within Seoul, there are free classes provided by Kongbubang, Sookmyung Education Volunteers, and Conversational Learning Seoul. These classes are all run by enthusiastic volunteers and all have different levels starting at total beginner. These can be a good place to learn the basics of Korean and meet new people as the teachers are usually more willing to interact with the students outside of class (like having lunch together) than teachers on paid courses may be. Kongbubang and Sookmyung Education volunteers are based near Sookmyung Women’s University in central Seoul. Conversational Learning Seoul is based in Gangnam.
There are also free classes run by the Korean government such as the classes at the Seoul Global Center and the Korea Immigration and Integration Program (KIIP). These classes may be more structured and the KIIP course is also useful for those students pursuing a permanent residency (F-2) visa. The Seoul Global Center offers regular language classes, TOPIK classes, Storytelling classes aimed at mothers and children, and business Korean classes for advanced students. The YWCA also offers free Korean classes aimed at helping spouses of Koreans integrate with Korean society.
e. Paid Online Courses
When there are so many free resources online, some people might question the logic of paying for an online course. However, a lot of the free online content has been put together by people as a hobby and free resources often have glaring holes in the contents covered.
Paid online resources have the advantage of having structured content that is well organized. This makes learning far easier and more efficient than trying to use free resources to patch together a comprehensive program by yourself. By using a structured course, it is easier to motivate yourself as you can see the progress that you are making. Paid courses also have generally better quality resources than the free resources available.
Studying online has several advantages and disadvantages when compared to studying at an academy or university. While still being structured, online students can study at any time that they like, which is useful for busy people or people that don’t wish to leave their jobs to study full-time. It is also cheaper than studying in a classroom. However, many online courses lack the interaction that is necessary for improving one’s language ability.
When choosing an online course, one of the most important factors to consider is how the course will help you with practicing speaking the language. Many online courses have lessons based around podcasts which people assume that they can use to study while travelling or doing another activity. However, to get the most out of any studying, students need to be focused on the activity of studying, use any available supplementary materials available, and take their own notes. When choosing a course, students should also try to judge from the content how long it will take them to learn the language using the course and decide whether this learning speed is appropriate for them.
Another, often forgotten, benefit of paid courses is that the act of paying in itself can provide students with motivation. Knowing that they would be wasting their money if they dropped out of the paid course can help provide a stick to incentivise students to continue with a language once they have started a paid course.
f. Accelerated Online Courses
Some people claim that they can learn a language in three months and Tim Ferris claimed that he learned Spanish in only eight weeks. How is this possible? The idea behind accelerated courses are that you learn the key components of a language first and try to learn the words that will allow you to say the most about of things in the shortest about of time. In such courses, things like modal verbs (want/can/may/need/like) come up very early on compared to traditional online courses. Other less useful things like describing the weather (which is only really useful if you are either a weather forecaster or if you are British) occur much later on in the course (if at all).
To give another example of this approach there are thousands upon thousands of Japanese Kanji but they are all made up of just over a hundred radicals. An accelerated approach to learning the Kanji would first involve learning these radicals, then learning only the most common Kanji, trying to make sure that students use these a lot until they are fluent. In Gabriel Wyner’s book Fluent Forever, he discusses this use of the most common words in depth, as well as presenting several methods to guarantee that difficult words stay in the student’s memory.
The use of accelerated learning techniques is revolutionizing how people think of language learning. It has changed the lives of countless people who thought that they couldn’t do languages because they failed high school French, only to go on to become fluent using accelerated learning techniques.
However, both Fluent Forever and Fluent in Three Months focus on techniques that are useful for learning European languages, and many of the techniques used have massive failings when coming to learn Korean. For example Wyner’s list of three-hundred words to learn first is completely different from the three hundred most commonly used Korean words, and the sample sentences that Tim Ferris uses to deconstruct languages fall apart when used on Korean due to their inability to factor for the different politeness levels and use of hierarchical pronouns in Korean.
For students wishing to try and use the accelerated method for learning Korean, a course focused towards the unique aspects of the Korean language, such as 90 Day Korean’s web course, can allow students to learn the language in a very fast time. However, they should try and combine this with as much speaking practice as possible to maximise its effectiveness (see the language exchanges section for ideas on how to manage this if you don’t live in Korea).
The difficulties in knowing where to start when learning Korean make Accelerated Language Courses an incredibly useful tool when learning Korean. For example, most Korean textbooks introduce the 입니다/습니다 concept very early on, when it is only really used for news, presentations, job interviews, and in the military.
Beginner students of Korean are unlikely to encounter many of these situations early on in their language study. By using an accelerated course, students can learn the most necessary parts of the language first which can make the task of language learning far less daunting.
g. Free Internet Resources
There is a saying ‘you don’t get anything in life for free’. The internet may be doing everything in its power to prove that saying wrong, but when it comes to language learning, it still applies to some extent. Free internet resources can help provide extra resources that benefit students if used properly, but they can hinder students who use them as a sole method to learn Korean from.
Free internet resources fall into two main categories: free courses, and other resources. Free online courses are provided by some Korean universities such as Sogang University and Seoul National University.
Although Sogang University is highly regarded for its offline Korean language program, its free online course looks severely out of date and doesn’t provide the interaction and speaking focus that its offline program is famous for. The main problem with the online course is the lack of output that a student is able to make, so it is hard to practice using the content that is being studied.
Seoul National University’s online program, Click Korean, is more user friendly than the Sogang online course and has more opportunities for students to check their understanding, but it lacks opportunities for students to produce sentence length output and be creative with the language. Students will also probably have to go back over the materials several times before they fully understand it. The University of California: Berkeley also has an online course although it is only available at an intermediate level. It is also quite cumbersome to use while not providing enough practise for any particular grammar point to sink in.
The most inviting free online resource is Talktomeinkorean. The use of videos, audio tracks, and pdfs make it far more user friendly than the university courses. However, the lessons aren’t linked in a way that builds students’ knowledge or reviews what they have previously learned.
It is also difficult to use the website to find a particular grammar point that you wish to understand and it takes a long time to go through all of the lessons so it is quite a slow resource to use if you want to learn Korean. That said, it is far more interactive than most online resources and the teachers actively try to get their students involved, giving it more of a community feel. Talktomeinkorean also run several language exchanges around Seoul and have weekly meetups in a Café near Hongik University (‘You are here’ café near Hongik University Station exit 2) where you can ask for their help when studying Korean.
Three other free resources that could be useful for students of Korean are Howtostudykorean, Korean Wiki Project, and Korean Grammar Dictionary. All three of these sites can be useful if you want to find a detailed explanation of any particular grammar point.
The Korean Grammar Dictionary is the easiest of these to use if you want a quick explanation. Howtostudykorean has excellent explanations if you have the time available to search through it for the grammar point in question. These resources provide no chances for practicing output, and generally just show what the grammar means rather than the correct situations when it is used. Therefore, these resources need to be combined with some other form of lessons in order to to be effective.
The Korean Wiki Project also includes other resources, along with idioms, slang, dialects et cetera. However, it is still some way off being completed so may not always have what you are looking for on it. For other online resources, click here.
With all of these free resources on offer, one might think that they can just use these resources and suddenly become fluent in Korean. In physics, two opposite forces cancel each other out, and the same can happen when you try and learn Korean or any other subject without a plan. Learning in an unstructured way prevents your brain from having the chance to build up the connections necessary for long term memorization so learning one thing can push out another thing.
Good language courses build on what a student already knows in order to allow their brain to develop deep connections. However, learning from free resources in a haphazard manner won’t allow this process to occur. If you plan to use free resources in order to improve your Korean then you need to plan ahead, look at the resources available, and spend time building your own curriculum. This process can be challenging in a language like Korean that is so different from English, so get some help if you are unsure.
h. Language Exchanges
Speaking is an absolutely vital part of language learning. It is from speaking and listening that babies acquire their first language, and it is how people like Benny Lewis claim that you can learn a language in record time. The difficulty comes in getting speaking practice. This is where language exchanges can play an important role.
Quite often, when you are just beginning to learn a language, people will not respond to you in that language. Or, they will answer to you in English if they know it. This can make it hard to get real-life speaking practice when you are just starting out (and is one of the main excuses people give for failing to learn Korean). Language exchanges can bridge this gap as the person who you are doing the exchange with will take the time to listen to you speak Korean. In addition, they will respond to you in Korean, even if you are still at an absolute beginner level.
Language exchanges aren’t free. It’s an exchange of services! They may not cost any money, but you have to sacrifice some of your time teaching your partner the language that they are learning. So for every hour of language exchange, a student only gets half an hour of practice in their target language. It is also important to remember that language exchange partners are not teachers and their teaching may be very ineffective. This can make language exchanges quite an exhausting experience.
To give your language exchange the best chance of success there are several things that you can do.
One is to be very careful when choosing your partners. Ideally, go to a group language exchange first so that you can more efficiently find a partner that suits you. An ideal partner should be easy to understand, compassionate, and have similar interests to you so that you can use the vocabulary that interests you the most.
Secondly, it is important to make sure that the language exchange does not slip into an English discussion. Language exchanges are supposed to be half in one language and half in the other language. If you are in a group this can be harder to enforce so be careful and when it is time to speak Korean be sure to make sure that the conversation doesn’t slip back into your native language.
Thirdly, try to add structure to the exchange by bringing a textbook or at least some notes about what you wish to discuss. This will give you more of a chance to improve as just random discussion won’t give you the opportunity for repetition that is required to make new concepts stick.
Language exchanges frequently burn out as one or both of the partners loses interest so if your partner hasn’t met with you for a few weeks then find a new partner. It is also possible to do language exchanges over the internet if there aren’t any language exchanges that you can travel to. To find a language exchange, you can use meetup.com or any of the resources listed here. For online language exchanges, it is also possible to use italki in addition to the previously mentioned options.
i. Flash Cards
If used correctly, flashcards can help students memorize thousands of words. The important thing is to know how to use them. A relatively new concept called spaced repetition has changed the way in which flashcards can be used. Spaced repetition can be done manually (The book Fluent Forever has a guide on how to do this). However it is much easier to let a computer take care of the spacing for you. Two of the most popular online spaced repetition systems are Anki and Memrise.
How flashcards are used makes a huge difference to their effectiveness. After looking on the Memrise website you will probably discover hundreds of decks of Korean flashcards and not know where to start. The best option is to use none of these decks but instead make your own flashcards to help you learn Korean. It can be time consuming, but it will drastically help make the words stick in your memory. It also has the advantages of helping you learn words that are useful to you and giving you meaningful descriptions (not so important for words like ‘tree’ but vital when it comes to more complex concepts).
The book Fluent Forever gives an excellent guide on how to make flashcards. Although its instructions are based on Anki, the methods can be transferred to Memrise, too. If you really don’t feel like making your own flashcard deck, then using the ‘2000 Essential Korean Words for beginners’ deck in conjunction with the corresponding book wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
Using flashcards to learn words in your free time, while on the subway or waiting for a friend, can free up your study time to focus on other aspects of the language such as grammar or speaking.
j. Korean Dramas
Korean Dramas are a very relaxing way to supplement your Korean study. Of course they cannot be your only resource, but they can complement other methods by providing a lot of easy listening practice. The reason for this is that dramas are much slower than movies and they have many dramatic pauses as well as using repetitive vocabulary that makes comprehension easier. They also are often based on domestic subjects so the vocabulary used is more likely to be known by students than the vocabulary used in movies. For beginner students, dramas can be especially useful in helping students identify the correct use of personal pronouns like 오빠 or 선배 as well as interjections like 정말? And 그래.
However, the language used in dramas isn’t exactly the same as natural Korean and students need to be careful when using phrases that they have learned in dramas. An example of this is the use of the word 당신 which occurs regularly in dramas but infrequently in natural spoken Korean. (Be especially careful about using period dramas as they often use Korean from centuries ago, and speaking in that way would be similar to using words like ‘doth’ and ‘thou speaketh’ in English.) Readers in the USA and Canada can watch Korean dramas on Soompi.
k. Korean Movies
These use much more specialized vocabulary and are faster paced than dramas, which make them a less than ideal source for learning Korean. The plot generally moves faster so it can be more difficult to guess what is happening from the context than it is when watching Korean dramas. This especially applies to thrillers and action movies.
Movies and dramas can help give the viewer a deeper insight into Korean culture. They also can be used as a topic to talk about with Koreans, so they can indirectly help your language learning in that way. Korean movies can be found here or here, as well as on YouTube.
Remembering melodies is so easy for the brain that once a particularly catchy melody gets stuck in your head, you can recall it years later. By learning song lyrics along with their melodies, students can learn Korean in a way that makes it stick in their heads. This can be useful in remembering difficult concepts. For example, many songs feature the lyrics 잊지 말라요 (don’t forget). By using these lyrics, students can easily remember the difference between the verbs 잊다 (to forget) and 잃다 (to lose).
The problem lies in that most lyrics are irrelevant to everyday life. Additionally, lyrics are often structured in order to fit the beat of the song rather than to have perfect sentence structure. It is easy enough to find K-pop songs on YouTube. You can find lyrics by searching for the song title and the word ‘lyrics’. This makes K-pop songs an easy resource to use. Slower songs with a melody are more effective for learning than fast songs with rapped lyrics. This is because it is easier to match the words to the melodies in slow songs.
4. Evaluate Course Effectiveness
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of any given study program, first you must know what your objectives and reasons for learning Korean are (re-read part one of this article if you are unsure about this).
Once you know your goals then you can start to think about the best way in which to learn Korean. An effective course is one that gets you to your goals quickly and with as little pain as possible. It is also one that will help you maintain that level of Korean.
Generally speaking, the most effective methods are those that allow you to know the basic everyday language (i.e. grammar, vocabulary, and conversation skils) combined with the Korean needed for your specialist goals.
For example, if you have no intention of ever learning Taekwondo, then Korean used for Taekwondo will not be that useful. But if you love watching baseball, then Korean baseball terms will be extremely useful!
In that case, you may want to evaluate your course effectiveness by watching baseball games. If you can understand 10% of what the announcers say after 2 months, and 25% after 4 months, then you may consider this an effective way to learn Korean!
But if you find that after 3 months you still don’t know what the people are saying during the game, it may be time to find a new study plan.
Another important thing when evaluating a course is its ‘stickability’. If you are learning too slowly and not enjoying your studying, then you will most likely give up studying. This is one of the main disadvantages of a lot of the free Korean resources available.
When you make a plan to learn Korean, you need to make sure that it is a plan that you can stick to. You need to do enough studying that you can feel that you are making progress, but not so much that you are overwhelmed. As Tim Ferris says:
“What you study is more important than how you study”
~Four Hour Chef, 2012
Choosing an effective course and study plan is the most important factor in determining your success in language learning. Once that course is in place, then you will naturally enjoy it. You’ll feel that you are progressing and so becoming more motivated naturally.
However, if you try to learn everything at once with no order then you will quickly become overwhelmed and lose your motivation. As Korean is full of traps that can quickly make a language learner feel overwhelmed, it is important to choose a course that helps you progress quickly. Be sure to avoid courses that get you stuck with the ten or so different ways to say the verb ‘to do’ based on politeness and context. It’s likely not necessary for you.
A course focused on a clear strategy to get you to your goals, combined with fun content, will be a formula for Korean learning success!
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